(My comments on a meditation on the Songs of Zechariah & Mary in Luke 1)
This selection (Luke 1:46-55 & 67-79) gives us the ‘songs’ of Mary and Zechariah just before Jesus’ birth.
This is an important “Preface” to the life and work of Christ, along with
- the remarks of Anna and Simeon in the temple shortly after Jesus’ birth,
- the teaching of John the Baptist just before Jesus moved into public ministry,
- and Jesus’ own remarks in Nazareth which Luke presents as the kick-off of his ministry.
So, as with those others, we can expect these statements of Mary and Zechariah to give us a good idea of what Jesus will be about, and thus of what God cares about and is working on.
I gave the section this title: God’s Values – God’s Agenda for Jesus.
It’s quite interesting that Mary stresses so strongly her “humble state,” those who “fear him,” and that God’s blessings and help are coming to “the humble,” “the hungry,” and “his servant.” Why emphasize that downer, depressing stuff? And she makes it explicit that in order to do this, the Lord will scatter “those who are proud in their inmost thoughts,” bring “down rulers from their thrones,” and send “the rich empty away.” Do you suppose she was accused in her day of encouraging “class warfare”?
- I wrote this in the margin of the print-out I was using of this week’s passage:
- Thank You, God for that simplicity and justice – for being, creating, and defending true prior value.
- To enforce that (God’s ‘true prior value’) demands also the scattering and bringing down and sending away that Mary foresees.
Do we have any enemies – people who truly hate us and will certainly harm us if they get the chance? Zechariah sees the coming One freeing us from such violence of word and deed.
I expect this passage seems embarrassing or at least confusing to many “evangelical” Christians today.
- What does this have to do with:
- salvation by praying to receive Christ,
- eternal life,
- “spiritual warfare” or
- abortion and homosexuality?
- Christians today like to talk openly about being hated,
- but we should certainly not talk about trouble coming for the wealthy and for rulers.
- What does this have to do with anything important?
- Surely we should just take this all as being about “spiritual” deliverances, not worldly things.
In fact Mary and Zechariah clearly felt and intended their remarks to be taken straight, applied to real-world social and political situations.
To the extent that it’s “spiritual”, it is so in the context of daily life, of real economic and power issues, at every level. God is the greatest power, and the original creator and lover of humans. Do we imagine God has no concern about how worldly powers treat that awesome creation? The spiritual, social and physical worlds all interpenetrate each other. The spiritual is realized in the physical and relational. Mary and Zechariah saw that clearly and almost intuitively, and expressed it well.
It shows in the last paragraph of Zechariah’s ‘song.’ “And you [John] will … give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” So in THIS explanation, John’s work, which is done BEFORE Jesus goes public, is to bring realization of salvation through forgiveness. It is the PREPARATION for the work of Jesus, which Zechariah expresses as “to shine … and to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Thus the sequence Zechariah sees is that forgiveness ENABLES a productive connection with the Christ WHICH gives us guided feet (changed and directed life paths) AND peace (shalom: “peace and prosperity”). (This is the dynamic underlying James’ “show you my faith BY my works.”)
These are very great and precious goals that Mary and Zechariah see – very great and precious projects that John and Jesus were going to pursue. The work is obviously not completed yet, but it also has obviously been working in many lives throughout history and in the world today.
God, as represented to us by Mary and Zechariah, understands the kinds of things that go on in this world, and the heart of God is FOR us, FOR this suffering and self-destructive race.